Sapo National Park Under Threat, Anybody Listening?
Yesterday’s edition of The INQUIRER reported that the only protected forest area in the country, Sapo National Park in Sinoe County, Southeastern Liberia has been taken over completely by ex-combatants and other residents. The park is an international focal point in Liberia. The report said ex-combatants under the command of MODEL's Sinoe County Commander John Nyan and other residents in the region are arbitrarily carrying out massive mining and hunting in the national park. Mr. Alexander Peal, Country Director of Conservation International-Liberia told the paper that the ex-fighters and others have established villages in the park and are also running video clubs there. The ex-combatants, said to be armed to their teeth, are occupying the park upon the orders of Gen. John Nyan, as such claim they will only vacate the protected area upon his orders.
This report is very disturbing, considering the importance of the protected area and its negative implication to the international community, with Liberia being a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity that calls for the creation and maintenance of national parks. The Sapo National Park is the core of an immense forest block of the Upper Guinea Forest Ecosystem that is very important to the conservation of the biodiversity of Liberia and West Africa as a whole. Liberia as a biodiversity priority, contains 42% of the remaining forest of the Upper Guinea Forest. The Upper Guinea Forest extends from Sierra Leone through Guinea, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Ghana, and Togo to Nigeria.
Let it be known to those threatening the survival of the Sapo National Park, that protected areas (parks) are the cornerstone of Liberia’s national biodiversity conservation strategies. They promote maintenance of species and ecosystems that cannot survive outside natural or near natural conditions. Protected areas provide an ark for threatened species, places where changes in land use have been sudden and wide ranging to allow wild species a breeding space until a combination of restoration and sustainable management create a more suitable habitat. They also create living laboratories where scientists and conservationists can learn more about how our ecosystems work and therefore how to accommodate biodiversity in other areas. Just in 2002, seven (7) new plants which are not found elsewhere in the world were discovered in Liberia and scientists are now conducting several laboratory tests to establish their values.
We therefore call on Gen. John Nyan and his collaborators to leave the park as the time of holding the national property is over. It is now time that all well-meaning Liberians join the efforts of the International Community to restore Liberia’s lost image, as well as make the Sapo National Park an international protected area. There is a lot of goodwill out there for the development and management of the Sapo National Park to make the only pride of Liberia’s tourist attraction and a well functional area in this war-torn country. Already, the World Bank, under the Sapo National Park Five-Year Management Plan, has approved a project submitted by Flora and Fauna International (FFI) for over US$2 million, while the United States/Liberia Forest Initiative program and the forest reform road map project has prioritized the total protection of the park as well as the creation of additional protected areas in the country. The MOU signed between the Government and Conservation International-Liberia calls for the establishment of six protected areas, only two, Sapo and Nimba Heritage Reserve have been established by law.
The Environment Desk(EnDe) joins Mr. Peal and MODEL’s Chairman Thomas Yaya Nimely to call on the NTGL to act now and save the Sapo National Park from its illegal occupants. Restoring the Sapo Park will demonstrate Government’s willingness/preparedness to implement the Liberia Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan which FOREWORD was recently signed by NTGL Chairman Charles G. Bryant.
To the UNMIL, NTLA, Conservationists, and Civil Society, we say the National Sapo Park is under serious threat from hunting and mining by ex-combatants and other residents. Is anybody listening?